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​New Sulpician provincial served in San Antonio

May 21, 2015 | posted by J. Michael Parker

Topics: Vocations

New Sulpician provincial served in San Antonio

Former Oblate School of Theology and Assumption Seminary faculty member Father John Kemper, PSS, 57, has been named provincial superior of the Society of St. Sulpice, also known as the Sulpician Fathers, for the United States Province. He will take office July 1. The Sulpicians were founded solely for formation of future priests. The U.S. Province runs four seminaries, and helps with formation at certain seminaries around the nation, presently including OST's sister institution, Assumption Seminary.

A Pennsylvanian by birth, Father Kemper is a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg. He has a doctorate in Pastoral Ministry from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. He has served on the faculties of St, Joseph College Seminary in Mt. View, Calif., SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., and Oblate School of Theology. Most recently, he was executive director of St. Mary’s Spiritual Center and Historic Site in Baltimore.

He came to San Antonio in 1997 as Spiritual Director at Assumption Seminary and director of the Ministry to Ministers Sabbatical Program at OST. In 1997, he was given additional responsibilities at OST as Professor of Pastoral Theology, Director of the Pastoral Year Internship and director of the International Priest Internship. From 2000-2006, he continued to serve in those capacities and was appointed as Vice President for Administration.

“We’re not a religious community, but a society of apostolic life,” he explained. “That makes us different from the Jesuits or the Franciscans, for example. We’re all diocesan priests who have been released by our bishops to become members of the Society of St. Sulpice for the purpose of initial and ongoing formation of Catholic clergy. We rely on the generosity of diocesan bishops to release their men for this ministry,” Father Kemper said.

Father Jean-Jacques Olier, SSS, in 1641, brought together several good priests at the parish of St. Sulpice in Paris and began what became the society’s first seminary. The Canadian Province later grew out of that, and in 1791, Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore asked the society to found a seminary for the United States. They did, and today, it is the nation’s oldest.

Worldwide, the society has about 325 members and operates four seminaries. Some of its members serve on the formation staffs at about 15 diocesan seminaries, including San Antonio’s Assumption Seminary. Sulpician Father Gerald Brown was rector of Assumption Seminary from 1999-2004 and also served as U.S. Provincial of the Sulpicians from 1985-97.

“The Catholic Church in the Southwest is very much alive, and we’re thrilled to collaborate with both Assumption Seminary and Oblate School of Theology. It affords us the opportunity to be involved in formation work as well as graduate teaching at OST, which is wonderful. Five Sulpicians have taught at OST and have been part of the formation team at Assumption Seminary,” he said.

The Sulpicians have had a long and happy history of collaboration with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Father Kemper said. “The Oblates arrived in Zambia in 1984, five years before the Sulpicians. Many Oblates who were at OST when I taught here are inministry in Zambia today, so whenever I’m over there, I always visit the Oblate parish, which is on the same road as the Sulpician seminary.”

Father Kemper said he views the collaboration with the Oblates as a continuation of the relationship that St. Eugene de Mazenod, the Oblates’ founder, had with the Sulpicians in the early 19th century. “It was the Sulpicians of France who trained St. Eugene at our seminary in Paris,” he explained. “I feel blessed to have been in San Antonio for 10 years. Experiencing the church in the Southwest was a new way to see church. It’s very different from the East or even California.”

He said each place the Sulpicians work is in a different geographical location, each with its own kind of ethos or ambience. “I was very blessed to live at Assumption Seminary for my first few years in San Antonio, in the same hall with Archbishop Patrick Flores. He is a kind, gracious and holy man; I was very much influenced by his generosity, hospitality and graciousness, Father Kemper said.” He recalled that Archbishop Flores became for him “the personification of the Church in the Southwest because if his welcoming, gracious hospitality.”